Signs of life for omnibus deal as negotiators make headway

Over the weekend, Senate and House appropriators made sufficient progress in bipartisan discussions that Democrats have put on hold plans for their own fiscal 2023 omnibuses and yearlong stopgap funding bills.

To force Republicans to change their mind, Democrats threatened to introduce the measures Monday. People familiar with the discussions stated that they were productive enough to scrap the planned weekend “readout,” which was scheduled by appropriations aides of the Democrat-written Omnibus. This is a crucial meeting where staff review each line to eliminate any errors and before formal introduction.

Senator Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), “feels that sufficient progress was made in negotiations over the weekend to delay introduction of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for the moment.” A Senate Democratic aide stated Sunday that bipartisan and bicameral talks are continuing.

Similar to Sunday night, House Appropriations Chairman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) wasn’t expected not to introduce Monday’s yearlong continuing resolution that she had been arguing was the only way out the impasse if Republicans didn’t change their main sticking point, nondefense spending levels.

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A full-year CR is still possible as a fallback option, but it could be more palatable if it contained lawmakers’ earmarks from earlier fiscal 2023 appropriations bills.

The delay of partisan pressure tactics indicated new optimism that congressional leaders might finally come to an agreement in the coming days regarding topline discretionary spending levels in the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. To avoid a partial shutdown of the government, Congress must pass an Omnibus Bill or other temporary measure by Friday midnight.

Even if a deal was reached quickly, however, it would not be possible to pass an omnibus bill in both chambers by Friday’s deadline. If a framework agreement is available that can be used by appropriators to create the full-year package, lawmakers were expected to vote for a temporary bill to extend current funding until Dec. 23.

If both the parties cannot agree to an omnibus agreement, or full-year CRR, then a short-term continuing resolution is available into the early next year.

Republicans have already voiced their disapproval of the Democratic-written Omnibus Bill because they believe it will increase nondefense spending more than they want. According to GOP appropriators, Democrats want $26 billion more nondefense spending than they consider reasonable.

Both sides have reached an agreement to spend $858 billion on defense, which is roughly 10% more than last year. However, the gap in nondefense spending has prevented any deal from being made for several weeks.

Republicans are also opposed to a one-year stopgap. Among other adverse outcomes, the Pentagon warned that a yearlong CR could leave it short of money and threaten military operations and maintenance. The Department of Veterans Affairs also stated it could cut needed medical care funds, which includes the toxic exposure benefit law, which was enacted this summer.

This possibility has been prepared by the Biden administration. It provided a list of “anomalies” or asked for billions more dollars for homeland security, programs for health, and other purposes that were beyond what a flat-funded continuing solution would provide.

However, many agencies and programs may still be left with the brunt of the problem. Under the White House’s proposal, billions of dollars worth of home-state earmarks could also be eliminated. Although the CR that appropriators drafted for a year might not be enough to alleviate agencies’ pain, it would at least allow lawmakers, including retired ones such as Leahy or Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala), to get their earmarks paid.